September 2006

Internal Communications Strategy And its Influence on Knowledge Management

As a senior manager or CEO, you are perfectly well aware of what your basic responsibilities are, but every senior manager has a slightly different perception of what his or her most important tasks are. All would agree, however, that keeping the company competitive and growing the bottom line sum up the goals of all profit-making organizations, and thus, their senior managers.

As managers move towards fulfilling their responsibilities, it has never been so important to work smart as it is now. Old systems don’t work in today’s international business environment, and knowledge management (KM) is one of the keys to new systems and to working smarter. Today, what you know is every bit as important as what you do.

I’ve been talking to senior managers up to now, but let’s widen the field a little. Of course it’s important for the people at the top to maintain their knowledge base, but in point of fact, everybody in the organization regardless of where they fit into the hierarchy ?has to maintain a knowledge base. Your employees all need not only the practical and financial resources to do their jobs, they need knowledge resources as well. The data and information which will ultimately become knowledge must flow throughout the organization in such a way that it gets to those who need it.

Well, that sounds simple enough; but it not simple at all.

The Chief Information Officer (CIO) or Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO) who is responsible for managing the flow of information and knowledge inside the company faces the challenge of understanding how the company operates on a day to day basis as well as understanding its market and competitive position, its product lines and its supply line profile. In other words, the CKO must understand the minute as well as the global. All these elements cannot be understood and reconciled unless the flow of internal communications is constant and open.

The lines of communication don’t stay open by themselves – for that matter, they wouldn’t even exist unless senior management requires it. Inside a company, large or small, it is management’s undeniable responsibility to ensure that communication is constant to the point of being relentless. The CKO is then able to utilize that constant information flow to keep a finger on the pulse of the entire organization. If they don’t have that finger on that pulse, CKOs can’t do their jobs.

There is a host of other reasons why good internal communications are vital to an organization, and we’ll be exploring some of them in future columns, but our concern today is to make clear that without good communications inside the company, the flow of information and knowledge cannot be as efficient and effective as it needs to be.

If a middle manager who runs a department allows his operation to become isolated, then trouble is not far away. The manager may think that closing some of the doors to the free flow of information and communications will allow the department to keep control of its own ideas and get on with its job with a minimum of outside interference, but nothing could be further from the truth. Such a shutdown and isolation should immediately become the concern of top management who must insist that the doors be opened again. As we said last month, constraints on communication lead to disintegration, and that can lead to a decline in productivity or, at worst, the collapse of the organization or company itself. To close communications not only guarantees isolation (which is hugely dangerous, no matter how attractive it may look on the outside) it also guarantees that those responsible for the flow of information and knowledge will lose sight of what knowledge resources are needed. The isolated department or operation will become starved for the information it requires, and although it may try to make up the deficit by its own efforts, its performance will ultimately and inevitably show the downside of the decision to shut down communications. The manager of that department may find him or herself out of a job.

Of course, the isolation of a department though lack of communication is not always the result of a conscious decision. On occasion, a department may become isolated for other reasons, and in order to prevent that, managers at all levels must be vigilant in their efforts to keep communication lines open.

There is no alternative to open, frank and candid information transfer inside a company. Without it, there are great dangers, and one of the greatest is that knowledge – the all-important factor in today’s business world ?will be stifled. As a senior manager or CEO, you must be constantly alert to be certain this does not happen.